In 2008, Apple launched its App Store, an online marketplace for software developers to offer their programs to users of the company’s iPhone. It created a flurry of activity among businesses big and small, as they all raced to get a piece of the action in this new craze.
Apple’s own marketing campaigns declared “there’s an app for that” being the answer for almost any question or problem we could face in everyday life. The phrase even became part of common everyday conversations for a short while, helping to drive the huge number of downloads on devices that still hadn’t been bought by the majority of the public yet.
As with all new technologies, most people and companies were still learning the best way to use them for the first few years of the App Store. During that time almost every business either built or at least explored the option of building a mobile application. However, many of these apps were only used once, or just a handful of times.
In fact, the proportion of smartphone apps that were used a single time peaked in 2010, with a rate of 25%.
At the same time, new web technologies such as HTML5 have matured, allowing designers and developers to create browser-based apps and websites that can be accessed on any device without the need to install software.
Over the last decade, the industry has collectively built a better understanding of what scenarios lend themselves to apps and when it’s better to just use a website.
If you’re unsure of what’s best for your business, these basic guidelines might help.
Full Screen Mode
If you don’t need to use all of the smartphone’s screen real estate or have your content viewed in landscape, then you may not need to use an app. While it is technically possible to make a web app run on full screen, particularly when viewing a video, it is usually better to do it with an app.
Mobile games are one of the most common apps that run in full-screen mode as it provides for a better playing experience and it prevents the user from accidentally closing the app or opening the notification center. For games like PokerStars and Call of Duty, this allows their mobile versions to closely reflect the playing experience of their PC titles.
Access Native Functionality
Modern smartphones have a lot of hardware sensors, including GPS, accelerometers, proximity sensors, front and back cameras, and more. These can help enhance the functionality of a mobile app.
For example, navigation apps use the GPS sensor to get your location and detect your speed. It will also use the light sensor on the front to detect how much ambient light there is, switching between light or dark modes to prevent you from being dazzled while driving.
Similarly, apps like AR Ruler use the phone’s camera to let the user measure objects. Again, while camera access is possible through a web browser, AR functionality is much more difficult in this context.
Apps are also good for when a user is likely to access them regularly, such as a shopping app like Amazon or a social media app like Facebook or Twitter. In contrast, a bed store is unlikely to find its app being accessed regularly since its customers are not going to be shopping with them frequently.
An app makes it easier for a user to stay logged in than a mobile website because browser cookies will either expire or be cleared by the user’s privacy settings.
Apps that are regularly accessed typically send push notifications to users which is much easier than through a web browser.
Mobile websites are much cheaper and easier to create so they should be the default choice for a business, however, apps may be more suitable in scenarios where any of the above features and functionality are required.